Ideas for kitchen?

Discussion in 'The Home Front Woman' started by Flicka, Jan 19, 2012.

  1. Babydoll

    Babydoll Call Me a Cab

    The Emerald City
    The apartment building (I was told - not sure how correct) was built to be servant quarters for all of the huge family homes in the neighborhood. There were 20 apartments total in the building - 6 one bedroom, 14 studio. Original radiator (building built around the furnace), original doors, Murphy bed closet (minus the bed, so made it my closet/computer area), clawfoot tub (miss that thing!).

    I lived there for years before I met my husband, and we lived there for 2 years after we got married. That was the best way to learn tolerance and communication - super cramped living space.

    Found an old photo of the kitchen and bathroom. Not very good, but it is what I have. We've not lived there for 7 years, and I still miss it.

    Can see the radiator (phone shelf), and half of the kitchen. It was the tiniest thing, but it worked well for me.

    And the amazing original clawfoot tub. Oh, I really, really miss that!
  2. sheeplady

    sheeplady I'll Lock Up Bartender

    The kitchen in the current house (build date: 1942) originally had a black and dark green linoleum floor. It was found under no less than six floors. We replaced it with oak hardwood when we remodeled the kitchen, to match the rest of the house. I love wood, so we went with that. The original floor had the tiles set on the diagonal with a border of black and green tiles cut into strips at the edge. Stunning. I wanted to try and keep it, but there were so many holes from later floors it was impossible. It was in pretty bad shape too.

    The new house (build date 1853 we think) had a wood floor with linoleum as a carpet in the center, and the edges painted.

    We will be getting an old-gas stove that has been converted to electric. We'll also have a double drain board sink and use a monitor top fridge. I'll likely build the cabinets.
  3. DecoDame

    DecoDame One of the Regulars

    We live in a building that was built in the late 30s/early 40s as a large orchard shed! The surrounding yards that now has 70s ranch homes on it used to be the orchard in question. When we bought it 15 years or so it still was a mostly hollowed out garage with a slab floor and a garage door, then used as an "artist's studio". We've been slowly remodeling ever since, mostly by ourselves except for the initial big jobs of putting in a proper floor and running gas/water/plumbing lines. We're trying our best to honor the period of the outer building and rescuing the wood exterior slat siding and such. So far, so good.

    I'm now seriously working on the kitchen. I'm re-using old cabinet fronts or refacing new ones to better fit the look. I've cut out a vent under the sink and put in punched metal screening. I've used salvaged ice box doors for the pantry I built (the rest of the box was sadly nonexistent) . We've had a lovely painted hoosier already, for about a decade now, that just needs a new coat of paint. I'm going to build a simple built-in dinette bench against the one wall. And we're always collecting old but still working appliances to use daily. (The deco Waring blender has only one speed, but what a workhorse! We use it for smoothies practically every day). I just put up (unprepasted!) deco wallpaper (we splurged on Bradbury and Bradbury, since it was a small area but would have maximum impact), ribbed window molding and I'm preparing (mentally and emotionally lol) to lay the honeycomb and subway counter/backsplash tile. I like the point about having 2 tone lino that has one color as border rather than mixed as the expected checkerboard. We're definitely doing lino and not black and white either, but I'll consider that design instead to further avoid the "modern cliche" about it. I want it to look as originally 30s as I sanely can, like it's been there all this time. I'll share pictures when it gets a little further along...It's a slow process, tho!

    We still have my partner's grandma's Chambers stove too, that we still need cleaned and serviced tho before I'd feel it was safe to crank up again (the local appliance men look at it like it had dropped from Mars. Not trusting them to take a wrench to it).

    Now I'm eyeing the local Craigslist for a vintage fridge. I'd much rather have a real, old one than an overpriced retro version (they look nice, but the heft and feel and value doesn't compare imo). I'm a little lost as to how to evaluate the specimens we're coming across though. Does anyone have any tips on what to look for when assessing an old model of fridge? Any things to watch out for beyond aesthetics on whether it can really function as a primary appliance?

    There's a GE fridge, I believe from late 40s, listed right now, that looks in good physical shape (minimal dings and rust) and with all 3 of the metal meat/veg/fruit drawers, but I don't know how to figure out if it's a good buy overall. Any tips would be most welcome! I want to be informed so I can convince the partner as well as myself to take the leap! :p
  4. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    Basically any pre-50s, manual defrost refrigerator is a good deal if it's in working order, and most of them will be. Check the power cord to be sure it's not rotten, and check the door gasket rubber to be sure it's not hard and cracked -- if it is, you can replace it, but that's still soemthing you'll have to do. A bad thermostat is also an easy fix with a one-size-fits all generic replacement.

    GE products have good support among vintage-appliance enthusiasts, so finding a new gasket shouldn't be a problem if you need one.

    Stay away from the early frost-free models, which came along in the fifties and sixties -- they suck energy, and have a lot of fiddly parts that can go wrong.
  5. DecoDame

    DecoDame One of the Regulars

    Thanks so much, Lizzie.

    I had no idea a thermostat would be so (relatively) easy to replace, still. Good to know. Tho the current owners are apparently currently using it as their garage "beer fridge", so it seems it's working there, at least sufficiently. Moving it might be an adventure. I assume most of them are built like a tank and probably weigh similarly!

    Thanks for the tips!
  6. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    It took two strong men to move my Kelvinator down three flights of stairs, so yes, you'll want to make sure you have plenty of help before trying to budge one. Most of them have the mechanism in the bottom, so the center of gravity tends to be very low.
  7. sheeplady

    sheeplady I'll Lock Up Bartender

    Ok, so here is some stuff I can think of about vintage fridges. First, the best piece of advice is to stick to GE units for pre-war and wartime models. These GE units didn't have drive belts so they don't tend to need as much restoration.

    If you are doing a "warm start" (the fridge has not been running/ plugged in) then you want to plug it in. You should always use rubber shoes when plugging in unknown condition electrical stuff, don't stand in puddles, etc. If it is a warm start, you will hear a slight hum when plugged in. Inside the fridge is a small metal box that is the evaporator. This serves as the freezer. Listen to this box closely- you should start to hear boiling within a few minutes. It will sound like a pot boiling on the stove. (Note: you have to have the fridge door open to do this, you *cannot* really hear the boiling with the door shut or if you aren't right there.) The boiling should die down in a few minutes. The freezer section should be cold to the touch within 5 minutes... not freezing, but cold to the touch.

    If the unit is running when you get there, drop some water on the evaporator, it should freeze.

    Other things to watch out for:
    1. Make sure the evap on a monitor top is stainless steel, not enamel. The enamel ones have problems with corrosion- they were replacement tops for older cabinets made during the war.
    2. If you move a fridge, do not plug it in until it has set for 24 hours after being re-tipped. Tipping it can cause oil to be misplaced in the system, so you have to let it settle before running it. Resist the temptation to get it home and turn it on. Get it home, get it situated, and come back the next day and start it.
    3. They are bigger than they look and heavier than they look. You'll need a dolly to move it. Always remove a monitor top (the top actually lifts off the cabinet) from the base before moving. Be careful to not break off the evaporator.

    If I think of anything else I'll post it.
  8. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    You can add Kelvinator to that list -- they used a sealed refrigeration unit called a "Polarsphere," which was an oversized, overengineered direct-drive motor heremetically sealed in oil. No belts, no lubrication, no maintenance required. It was basically the same concept as the GE system, only mounted in the bottom of the cabinet. It's also spring mounted for relatively quiet operation.
  9. sheeplady

    sheeplady I'll Lock Up Bartender

    I thought of another thing to mention. Lizzie mentioned the manual defrost machines. Old GE's (again, talking pre-1950s) have a setting called "defrost" that you'll see on the machine. What this setting does is simply raise the thermostat and then slowly lower it over a several hour period. These GE's don't tend to have problems with the defrost cycle- and it is something they introduced in the early 1930s. So if you see a pre-fifties GE with "Defrost" on the switch you are fine- this is still a "manual" defrost in the sense that you have to switch the setting. You, of course, don't need to use it to defrost, but simply turn the machine off and use a pan of hot water instead.

    As far as noise, I find both our monitor top and flat top to run quieter than our modern fridge. So don't worry about noise from any model.

    Is the evaporator/freezer compartment on a Kelvinator on the bottom of the fridge too? Our flat top has the condenser bottom mounted but the freezer is at the top. I know there must have been freezers at the bottom at some point, as my mother always went on about how "old" fridges had the freezer on the bottom.

    We're much more familiar with GE's because of our closeness to Schenectady. (Even the small cities- Utica being most notable) around here had GE plants of some sort.) If you look at the Albany craigslist, you can find a monitor top on there monthly for sale.
  10. sheeplady

    sheeplady I'll Lock Up Bartender

    Bette Davis in a commerical to sell the automated GE kitchen in 1933:

    The fridge in this one looks to be a model CA monitor top.
  11. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    My Kelvinator has this feature as well, but it's not like a modern defrost system -- it doesn't *heat* the frost, it simply makes the evaporator area less cold. It takes a long time for this to work, and it doesn't work especially well. When I defrost, I simply blow a hair dryer into the evaporator until the chunks of frost fall off in big pieces. The whole job takes less than an hour that way.

    The evaporator is still in the top of the cabinet, and there's a tube that runs thru the back of the cabinet connecting it to the Polarsphere. That tube is fully enclosed, so unless you completely dismantle the cabinet you never see it. The Polasphere is mounted on top of the condenser coil, which is set up as a flat rectangle parallel to the floor. You have to remember to dust it once in a while, but it's out of the way -- it doesn't hang off the back of the refrigerator cabinet like a lot of other models.

    There is no freezer on the bottom, but there is a tilt-out drawer intended for storing potatoes and turnips and such things. You lift this whole drawer assembly off its mount to get at the mechanism.

    As for GE, my best friend's dad was an engineer there from the thirties thru the seventies, and got an employee discount on appliances. They had a GE flat-top fridge from '37 or '38 that's sitting in the basement of the house, and as far as any one knows it still works. The only reason they got rid of it was that they found it too small for a family with six kids.
  12. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    This is my Kelvinator -- it's a model CD-7, built in November 1945. Although it was the first of the "postwar" models, it's identical to the 1941-42 design: the first models of just about everything built directly after the war were warmed-over prewar designs.


    The photo was taken as part of a school project by one of my girls from the theatre. She was astonished that something older than her grandmother was still functional.
  13. DecoDame

    DecoDame One of the Regulars

    Ladies, you have no idea how helpful and reassuring your info is. Right now, I'm exchanging email questions with the owner re: one of our "contestants", a late 40s GE. I'm going to print out your suggestions and take it with us to be part of our Shopping Guide! I'm very hopeful this will be The One. I know we have to be smart evaluators tho and not buy one that isn't a good match/in good shape. But I feel better equipped now to know the difference!

    Oh, BTW, turns out my partner is very enthusiastic about this option - as opposed to buying a new model trying to be old - and has fond memories of defrosting her grandma's and mother's fridges, so no convincing necessary! yeah! Her only question is "Do they use alot more electricity than modern models?" Keep in mind, we are currently making do with a 80s side by side that is hardly "energy efficient" tho, so the bar is set kinda low already. ..I know Lizzie mentioned later models being "energy suckers", but apparently late model 40s are not?

    That GE commercial film was amazing! Like a short film. Interesting moment in Bette's career too...
    Last edited: May 15, 2014
  14. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    An ordinary manual-defrost refrigerator from the late forties back would use substantially less electricity than a modern refrigerator -- if the gaskets are good. Not only does it not have an automatic defrost system, it doesn't have an icemaker, a cold-water dispenser, or any of the other various doodads that modern units have. It's also substantially smaller, so it isn't cooling as large a space as a modern unit.

    To test the gasket, try this: close a dollar bill in the door and see how difficult it is to remove. If it comes out easily, your gasket is shot and needs to be replaced -- a leaky gasket won't keep the cold in and your refrigerator will run much more often than it should. With a good, strong gasket the typical refrigerator of the Era shouldn't run more than 10 to 15 minutes or so out of every hour. A modern refrigerator, depending on its size and amount of gadgetry, might run 20 or 30 minutes out of every hour.

    A refrigerator of the Era, provided you defrost it regularly, will also last much longer than a modern unit. I've owned my Kelvinator -- trouble free -- for twenty-six years. Over that time my mother has gone thru *three* modern refrigerators.
  15. DecoDame

    DecoDame One of the Regulars

    Lizzie, you're a treasure. I'll pass that good news on.

    And yes, planned obsolescence and/or just shoddy modern workmanship is one of the myriad reasons I really want to go vintage here. They have a good chance of lasting longer than new and also be a daily time traveling joy to use, to boot.

    And your Kelvinator is swell, by the way. I look forward to having something that nifty.
  16. DecoDame

    DecoDame One of the Regulars

    Ah, an update from the seller is prompting another question:

    The seller responded with "The person it came from had replaced the condenser so I know for sure the refrigerator works but I never tried the freezer.". Now firstly, if the fridge is cooling that means the freezer is working, since the freezer/evaporator is what is cooling the rest of the box, yes? (I just need to assess how well it is still cooling?) And secondly did these models even have what I picture as condenser coils? But they're not outside the box like modern ones? Replacing the condenser - should that be good news or worrying?

    This is a crash course on refrigeration for me! Again, grateful for any input...
  17. sheeplady

    sheeplady I'll Lock Up Bartender

    A modern fridge is going to much less efficient. The modern gases they use require much much greater compression in order to boil and become a gas. That means your compressor is working much harder, longer, and more often in a modern fridge- which means more energy use and this is one of the reasons why they don't last as long. These fridges are also smaller- both our monitor top (1935 CK) and our flat top (1940 CF) are around 7 cubic feet (flat top is smaller). You will have a tiny little freezer- that is the only drawback. To accommodate this, we have a large upright freezer, as we are gardeners who freeze a ton of produce, I make meals ahead, etc. These old refrigerators would actually get energy star ratings better than a modern fridge of the same size.

    They are monsters in producing ice. You need to get yourself some of the aluminum ice trays. Wet the freezer section a little bit and then plop in the trays- you will have HUGE ice cubes in a third of the time it takes to make ice in your current fridge. I had wanted to get a "back up fridge" or a stand alone "icemaker" for parties- then I saw one of these babies make ice. A modern ice maker cannot keep up.

    Don't let a bad gasket scare you away. You can replace it yourself for under 100 dollars, and it will make it much more efficient than a poor one. This is something you can do with very little knowledge.

    To clean them, I have found Spray 9 to work wonders. I bought ours at Home Depot. I cleaned our shower with it and it cleaned out our stopped up drain. I'm pretty sure it should be illegal in the continuous 48 states- anything that cleans that well is probably really really toxic. ;) It will take away dirt and grime.

    Here are our two babies, side by side. I haven't done a final cleaning, but I am working on it:

    Warning though- it can be addictive. We bought two in a space of 3 months- the flat top was a steal at the price they were asking. Fortunately my husband is too busy now to look on craigslist. :) I am incurably addicted and I told him he can get as many as he wants- BUT I want a globe top and a CA along the way...
  18. sheeplady

    sheeplady I'll Lock Up Bartender

    What's the make and model of the fridge- and do you have a build year? I will ask my husband what he thinks about a replaced condenser- my concern is if they drained the system of refrigerant and what they replaced it with and if it has a full charge. :) I can also post this at the Monitor Top Forum (they deal with flat tops too).

    Yes- you are right on your theory- the freezer is cooling the entire fridge. The only way the freezer wouldn't work is if it is not getting cold enough to freeze things.

    I will go out and ask the husband about the condenser.
    Last edited: May 16, 2014
  19. DecoDame

    DecoDame One of the Regulars


    It's a GE flat top, Sheeplady, I believe late 40s. I'm trying to add pic to this - let's see if it shows up! :)
  20. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    If the machine is cooling, the evaporator (freezer) will be the coldest spot in the thing, so that shouldn't be an issue. There could be issues with the thermostat -- if there are, it won't shut off at the temperature indicated on the dial -- but you can be confident the mechanism works.

    The condenser is in the bottom underneath the compressor unit. It's coiled up tubing passed thru metal radiator vanes for dispersal of heat. You can't miss it. There's either an access panel at the rear of the machine or it's just open to the air in the back to let the heat out.

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